Brandon Sanderson may be known for his works of epic fantasy, but they’re certainly not all that he writes. With the release of his Legion omnibus forthcoming, as well as his new science fiction young adult novel, Skyward, due out later this fall, I wanted to highlight those works that exist outside the Cosmere (the name for Sanderson’s inter-connected universe of epic fantasy stories). If you enjoy science fiction, superheroes, strange magic, libraries full of secrets, and multiple personalities, then it’s time to learn about the other side of Sanderson!
The Reckoners is a completed trilogy (Steelheart, Firefight, and Calamity) about murderous superheroes and alternate realities, and features a young man who really doesn’t know how to tell jokes. David was young when the Epics—people with superpowers— started manifesting. Except when they used these powers, they turned bad. And the worst of them all is Steelheart, an Epic who declares himself Emperor of the city once known as Chicago. David lost his father because of Steelheart and has been training his whole life to make him pay. He joins up with the Reckoners, a group of humans dedicated to the same thing he is: resistance, revolution, and ridding the world of Steelheart. Although the original trilogy is completed, Sanderson has been teasing a possible return to this universe in another trilogy called The Apocalypse Guard, though that will be its own separate story.
If you want spaceships instead of superpowers, keep an eye out for Skyward this fall. Spensa is a young girl whose living on a devastated planet, made so by the war machines of the alien Krell. She dreams of being a pilot, but the legacy of her father, a deserter, follows her wherever she goes. When she finds a ship of her own, she’ll have to figure out a way to fly. While this isn’t out yet, it sounds like a great science fiction adventure, with Sanderson’s signature worldbuilding, told through an alien milieu.
If you like fantasy, but aren’t sure you want to dive straight into the Cosmere, then these next two series are right up your alley. Taking place in an alternate America, The Rithmatist follows the adventures of a young boy named Joel who goes to a magic academy, except he’s not allowed to learn magic. Learning Rithmatics, the science behind infusing life into two-dimensional chalk-drawn figures, is forbidden to Joel, who must content himself with sneaking into classes when he can. But when students begin to go missing, he and his friend Melody have to rise up to the challenge, and work together to not only learn the magic of Rithmatics, but find out what’s happening in their school. Sanderson is well known for creating worlds that stand on their own, and here, where Wild Chalkings stalk the world, and magic is just a powerful will meeting a piece of chalk, he gives us one of his quirkiest worlds.
And if this sort of mathematical world isn’t to your tastes, there’s also his middle grade Alcatraz series. Alcatraz is a foster child, and a nebbish sort who one days finds a bag of sand addressed to him in the mail—it’s his inheritance in the fight against the evil Librarians that run the world. When his real grandfather shows up, Alcatraz learns the truth: he’s from a long line of magicians and freedom fighters who work to stop the plots of the Librarians whenever they can. Along the way, Alcatraz will learn the truth about his sand and his family, and may actually save the world. Aimed for a younger audience, and certainly more in the vein of a family movie, the Alcatraz series is five books of fun, adventure, and humor, all with the tell-tale signature of Sanderson’s break neck pace and plot.
If you prefer more of an adult science fiction story, let’s steer you towards Legion, collecting the first two Stephen Leeds novellas as well as the brand new one to conclude the series. Stephen Leeds, nicknamed “Legion,” has a bit of a special talent: he can generate different versions of himself, hallucinations, or “aspects,” complete with their own personalities, and with those personalities, skills. He can then utilize anyone he thinks up, which he does often, when on a job, or running from someone trying to kill him. A little more adult, a little more serious, but with plenty of creativity as Sanderson pushes the ideas of Legion’s mental abilities and the aspects he can make of himself. (You can read an excerpt from the first novella here.)
While the Cosmere may be vast, so too, is Sanderson’s creativity, and if the above list is any indication, there’s something for everyone in his lexicon. As we’re between Stormlight books, now is the perfect time to try something new!
Martin Cahill is a contributor to Tor.com, as well as Book Riot and Strange Horizons. He has fiction forthcoming at Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Fireside Fiction. You can follow his musings on Twitter @McflyCahill90.